PLAN B: A National Referendum on the War in Iraq

"April is the cruellest month."  Thus begins T.S. Eliot's epic poem, The Waste Land.  Some 85 years after the publication of this literary masterpiece, the words still ring true.  The month that is welcomed in many parts for "stirring dull roots with spring rain" has, in the year 2007, brought a most unwelcome rain.  In the nation of Iraq, in the cradle of civilization, the rain of violence and destruction has been unrelenting.  More than 100 American soldiers have perished in April, making it one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops since the war first began.  In the same time span, some 2,400 Iraqi civilians have perished!  This past Saturday was particularly bloody:

On Saturday 28 April, the most violent day of the week, over 160 lose their lives, including 75 killed by a suicide bomber in Karbala. Among the dead 5 children and 8 people burnt so badly that their age and gender remain undetermined. Three more children lose their lives: a 12-year-old boy is blown up by a roadside bomb in Kut, a 5-year-old girl is killed by mortars in Janaja, and the child of an army officer is killed by gunmen, together with his grandmother, near Baquba. Police find around 50 bodies in Baghdad, Baquba, Mahaweel and Mosul.  [source]

There is no end in sight and no convincing indication that U.S. forces, even with a surge in troops, can quell the carnage.  The war has become a brutal quagmire for this nation.  Although we recklessly began this fight, we cannot gracefully end it.  By passing legislation that provides continued funding for U.S. troops but establishes a timeline for their withdrawal from Iraq, Congress has finally faced up to this reality.  However, President Bush--who sees a decidedly different reality--has threatened to veto the appropriations bill.  He will likely do so four years to the day after he jetted aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and, beneath a banner proclaiming Mission Accomplished, declared: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."  Mr. Bush was wrong then, and he is wrong now.

Unfortunately, Congress lacks sufficient votes to override a veto, which puts the modest majority favoring a timeline for withdrawal in a bind.  While they could simply resubmit the bill without the controversial language, they do so at their own political peril (and at the very real peril of the troops).  A significant majority of Americans has made it abundantly clear that they disapprove of the President's handling of the war in Iraq and favor a timeline for withdrawal.  If Congress should back down, then no progress will have been made toward ending this military misadventure.  The will of the electorate will have been disregarded.  And the casualties will continue to mount.

Given the circumstances in both Iraq and Washington, perhaps the time has come for a different strategy--one that models the very principles of democracy that many had hoped would take root in Iraq and that allows the American people to decide for themselves whether or not to establish a timeline for withdrawal.  If, as anticipated, the President vetoes the appropriations bill, Congress should immediately take action to remove the language that Mr. Bush finds so objectionable and instead insert language calling for (and funding) a national referendum on the war in Iraq, to be held no later than Tuesday, November 6.  On the designated day, the citizens of this nation will be presented with a binding resolution that asks one simple question: Should the President be required to implement a plan, effective immediately, that would withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by April 1, 2008?  The decision of the electorate will be final.

Though there is no real precedent for such a national referendum in the United States, many other countries--including Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, France, Denmark, and South Africa--have previously sought to resolve contentious issues through such measures.  And on a statewide level, referendums are fairly common in the U.S.  It seems reasonable at this juncture to allow the American people--whom James Madison viewed as possessing "supreme authority"--to more formally express their wishes regarding this nation's involvement in Iraq.  And it would behoove President Bush and the members of Congress, who derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," to respect those wishes, whatever they may be.

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    I brought this idea up a few years ago... (none / 0) (#1)
    by Ernesto Del Mundo on Sun May 20, 2007 at 02:52:23 AM EST
    And someone made the very valid point that setting such a precedent on deciding issues by national referendums might not be such a good thing. For example, think in terms of the ease with which people are willing to give up Constitutional liberties when they are frightened.